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Friday, December 30, 2016

3 Simple Steps to the Best Banana Bread Ever!

I love banana bread -- it's filling, relatively healthy, and not so hard to make if you follow these simple tips and steps:

1)  Be willing to substitute and experiment!

One Sunday morning, desperate for homemade baked goods, I found this basic banana bread recipe through a Google search but discovered I didn't have all of the ingredients.  Not to be denied, I started experimenting and substituting and came up with my own recipe (and, don't tell everybody because they will NOT know, it's gluten free!!):

1 1/2 c. Gluten Free Mama's Almond Flour (**
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3-4 bananas (or 3 bananas and half an apple)
2 eggs
1/4 c. sesame oil
scant 2/3 c. sugar (I use the minimally processed turbinado sugar)
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

** I have no affiliation with Gluten Free Mama, I just think they have excellent flours.

You can also add a handful of chopped walnuts and/or chocolate chips.  I find most regular recipes for baked items have too much sugar in them for my taste, so I always cut back (plus, in this recipe, the bananas and almond flour add enough of their own sweetness).

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ones in another bowl; add one bowl to the other (I've found it doesn't matter in which direction you go) and mix well; add walnuts and/or chocolate chips; pour into bread pan or muffin tin; bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to an hour for bread, 35 minutes for muffins (cooking time will depend on your oven; I'd test with a toothpick after 45 minutes or 30 minutes, respectively; after one or two batches, you'll have an idea of timing).

2)  Have your tools set aside together to cut down on prep time

I have two bowls, a spatula, measuring cups and spoons set aside all together so that, when I want to make a batch, I'm ready to go.  I keep the flour in the freezer but the other dry items pretty close together in the pantry and wet ones in the frig, so it's easy to tell if anything is getting low and easy to grab when I'm ready to bake.  As I use each tool, I immediately dunk it into soapy water in a dishpan to soak; it makes clean up so easy.

3)  Make use of your mini-blender or mixer

I like some chunks of fruit in my muffins or bread, but if you don't want it too chunky or with a smoother consistency, blend some of the fruit in a smoothie maker.  For example, I put half an apple chopped up, one of the bananas sliced up, and one of the eggs in my blender for maybe 10-15 seconds, then poured the mixture into the bowl with the rest of the wet ingredients. Then, it's much easier to stir and blend the ingredients together by hand.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do, and I'd love to hear what fruit/nut/other ingredient combinations you choose!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Ah, the holiday season is upon us again.  Hard to believe 2016 is almost over and a new year is about to begin.  I always try to have a post at the end of the year reviewing how things went and a post at the beginning of the new year setting goals and aspirations.

This year posed many challenges again, but as I look back at the first post of the year, I feel like I might have done better than I thought...  Although my first goal, a realistic and meaningful blog post schedule, wasn't fully accomplished with respect to consistency, I hope it was successful in providing helpful and interesting information.  And I sure had fun trying some new techniques, like short row heels on socks.  Most of all, though, I do think that the crochet (and knitting) lifestyle is worth exploring.  I made a point of doing a little stitching each day (or some creative endeavor), and I hope to continue to incorporate the concept of "the power of an hour" into my day (more on that to come!).

What possibilities might 2017 hold for me?  Well, please return in January to find out, but I'll leave you with one thought that has been going through my mind a lot lately:  simplicity.  We live in a very complicated world, and the information overload can be overwhelming.  As the commercialization of Christmas is evident once again, I keep coming back to "simplicity" as a guiding principle in gift giving, some early spring cleaning I've been trying to do, and how I've been choosing to spend my time.  I think it might end up being just the right theme for me in crochet design as well.

So, as 2016 draws to a close, please accept my happiest wishes to you for a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday Season, and a New Year filled with new possibilities and adventures.  And meet back here in 2017!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Stitch House Dorchester

I'm so lucky to have gotten a chance to do a little traveling this year, and I'm just back from my first trip to Boston!  While there, I got the chance to visit the most awesome yarn store called Stitch House Dorchester

What a wonderful selection of yarns, and, in my efforts to design more baby items, I picked up a kit of local, Wonderland hand dyed yarns by Frabjous Fibers.

I also am excited about trying the Dreambaby DK by Plymouth Yarn (I'll be posting separately about some ideas I have for that luscious yarn!)

But the best part of the visit was getting to talk with the lovely Carrie ("just like in the Stephen King novel!" she says ;-).  Turns out she's very familiar with the DC area, so it was fun talking about LYSs and the fiber arts in general.

The shop really is a must-visit if you're in the Boston area.  Be prepared to do some serious shopping (no sales tax on yarn in Mass.!) and hanging out in the shop, you'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

O Canada!

We just got back from a trip to Montreal and Quebec City.

It was just so wonderful. The people could not be nicer, the streets were so clean and safe-feeling, and the scenery was amazing. Though, the highway drive between the two cities seemed like "bizarro America" because it was just like driving through Maryland or Pennsylvania but with French signage!  I wonder if I could live with 8 feet of snow a year...

And, thanks to a wonderful and indulgent hubby, I was able to stop by a yarn store in each city.  The concierge at the Intercontinental Hotel in Montreal obviously was not a crocheter or knitter because she just pulled up a random shop that didn't quite sound right; thankfully I got my internet working and was able to do a little searching of my own (tried to do research before leaving home, but couldn't figure out on the map how close/far things were).  Hence, right before heading out of town, we stopped at La Maison Tricotee (The Knitting House).  Everyone there was so friendly and tolerant of my attempts at French (though French is definitely the first language, everyone switches to English as soon as they see a blank stare in response to whatever they've just ), and they pointed out a lovely locally-dyed yarn that I grabbed up (and it was very reasonable in Canadian dollars, and, with the exchange rate, was even better in US dollars!).  It's definitely a modern, hip yarn store, with a comfortable seating area, a cafe, and all the bells and whistles you'd want in an LYS.  The neighborhood in which it's located sure seemed like a nice place to live as well.

Then off to Quebec City!  We stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Le Frontenac; it was like a fairy tale castle!  

We wore ourselves out running around the hotel hallways to the indoor pool and spa and then through the quaint alleyways full of shops and restaurants.  In the afternoon, we went driving in search of a yarn shop.  The first one I pulled up in my search, Softi, now is a beautiful art gallery but not what we were looking for.  So, off to La Dauphine we went (and thankfully there was an organic boulangerie next door for the husband :-).  

Although when you first enter, it appears a bit unorganized with no sitting area, you soon discover the amazing selection of yarns they have, really good quality, reasonably priced beauties.  Again the ladies there could not have been nicer or more helpful to me as I stumbled around trying to decide what to buy.  As soon as I actually unpack (got back late Sunday night and had to go to work on Monday :-(, I'll be posting pix of my finds and my plans of what to do with them! 

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Trip to Knitlandia

As I'm working on a post about baby blankets and trying to figure out some technical issues about how to make a fabulous chart of measurements available to you all, I decided to take a little "trip."  I've been meaning to get Knitlandia by Clara Parkes (note: affiliate link to book on Amazon provided below) and had a digital credit on Amazon, so I got the Kindle version, though I'm tempted to get the hardback, actual book as well because, while reading her stories, it just feels like you should have a real book in your hands!  I've really only just started the book but felt the need to recommend it to anyone looking for an escapist read.  I'm in the portion where she's telling about her trip to Iceland.  I've always wanted to go to Iceland, and, after starting this section of the book, I want to go all the more.  Ms. Parkes' writing style is easy to read and very descriptive, so you really feel like you're there with her as events unfold.  But, in a way, her storytelling is deceptive:  she's sharing an incredible amount of technical information about yarn production from sheep to mill to store.  I'm finding myself wanting to read this book rather than crochet or knit myself, play games on my iPhone, or do a bunch of other things, and, these days, that sounds like pretty high praise for a book!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

5 Must-Have Crochet or Knit Baby Shower Gifts

Yup, "Aunt Phyllis" is gearing up for some upcoming baby showers and arrivals!  And, though I've written about baby wear before, I'm not sure I've done it in an organized way all in one place, so I'll be putting together a series of posts on baby gifts that will link back to this outline post.

So, first, I wanted to do an overview of "baby essentials" (and then focus on items that can/should be crocheted or knitted).  Boy, does this concept mean different things to different mamas!  Basal Baby has simple, beautiful gift subscriptions for organic cotton basics for baby's first year, but it's a bit pricey. also has baby and kids clothes in simple styles and bright colors, and you can get 25% off on your first order (enter code: WELCOME25).  Now I haven't tried nor have any affiliation with either one but each caught my eye during research for this post.

I think the most comprehensive and well-thought out checklist for baby essentials and add-ons I came across is the one on Squawkfox.  There's a downloadable checklist and some great tips on how to save $$ on baby clothes.

So, here's what I'm going to be concentrating on in terms of baby shower gifts you'll want to crochet or knit (starting at the top!):

1)  Hat

Depending on when baby is going to arrive, which may dictate the style and thickness of yarn you use, a handmade hat could be the perfect baby shower gift.  There are just so many beautiful crochet and knit baby hat patterns out there!   And it can be a quick and easy project with yarns that you already have on hand but still a really special and useful item.  In a future post, I'll be discussing the different styles and constructions of baby hats and suggesting some ways to make decisions from the vast array of choices you have!

2)  Bib

The bib truly is a canvas, for baby with his or her food but for you as a creative crocheter or knitter.  Chances are your handmade bib is going to be a keepsake and used for photo sessions with baby, which frankly gives you a lot of latitude to create something one-of-a-kind and really special.  One thought is to package together a set of practical, easy-to-wash bibs along with your handmade gem.

3)  Sweater/Jacket

You might want to save this project for baby's first birthday so that you can really plan a customized style, color and yarn weight that fits just right.  A baby sweater or jacket is a great project for the crocheter or knitter who's ready to experiment with garment construction.  Again, the patterns out there are endless, so, in a future post, I'll explore some ways to choose a pattern that will result in a fun project for you and an amazing wearable for baby.

4)  Blanket

A baby blanket is a great crochet or knit project for the beginner because it gives you the chance to hone your stitching skills while creating a useful item that baby will drag around for years!  Which should steer you towards choosing a soft yet sturdy and easily washed yarn choice.  In a future post, I'll concentrate on providing the various sizes of baby blankets based on intended use as well as the yarn properties to consider when planning your project.

5)  Booties

If you're looking for a baby shower gift that will have the future mom and guests ooohing and ahhhing, little baby booties get them every time!  Add a coordinating hat, and you'll be getting orders on the spot.  Top considerations for this project include a) fit so that they aren't easily kicked off by baby and b) style (Mary Janes, cowboy booties, etc), so I'll be posting some tips and tricks to optimize and customize.

I'm really looking forward to exploring these and other crochet and knit projects for baby with you!!  I've got placeholders in each category where I will insert links to the future posts as they get done, so you might want to save this post link since it will have everything in one place.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

3 Critical Tips for the Crocheter Who's Beginning to Knit

What's the expression, we tend to learn the hard way?!  Well, I think I'm in that spot...  Nothing that can't be worked around, but I have discovered some great tips that I wish I had learned about BEFORE starting my Vintage Sweater project!

TIP # 1:  Using the right amount of yarn for the long tail cast on.

This casting on business is such a pain in the neck, definitely my least favorite part about knitting.  But, so far, I really like how the long tail cast on looks; plus, I needed to do a 1x1 ribbing cast on for the bottom of the sweater.  There's a great video on YouTube for that particular cast-on, and, once you get a rhythm going, it's not that hard.

But, I really wish I had seen this article before I started (I've gotten the back done and am currently working on the left side of the cardigan): No More Estimating Tail Length for a Long Tail Cast-on by Coco Knits.  I'm definitely trying this for the right side of the sweater.

TIP # 2:  How to stop stockinette from curling

Well, I'm not going to be able to do anything about this problem except follow some of the after-the-fact tips given in this article by Loveknitting.  I always thought it was me:  I wasn't doing it right or I wasn't blocking properly, etc.  But it's not us; we just didn't know these tricks!  I kind of like the idea of adding some ribbon and have seen that inside of sweaters before, so that might be my solution this time.

TIP # 3  Do some research BEFORE starting your project

This is the toughest tip for me!  I usually just jump into a project without really thinking about it too much beforehand.  But, this is a good lesson for me:  I need to slow down, really read through the pattern, think about all the instructions, and do a little investigating before starting.  Great tip for life in general in a way, though I probably will still keep jumping in ;-)

What critical tips have you experienced?!

Friday, June 3, 2016


What a great vacation in Jamaica I had!  And there was some wonderful crochet sightings during my stay (see photos on my Facebook page).  I took the opportunity to unplug as much as possible and try not to think about things; I figured, with a clearer mind, the right path(s) for me to take would just pop into my thoughts...

Well, not sure that happened, but one thing that did help me was to start reading Dave Crenshaw's The Focused Business: How Entrepreneurs Can Triumph Over Chaos (note:  my affiliate link below).  He's got a clever (albeit a bit hokey after a while) way of presenting how easily small business owners can get distracted from their mission and goals (or have a hard time formulating them in the first place).  I especially like how he gives an action item at the end of each chapter, having led you through how to do that action item throughout the chapter.

His basic premise is Focus, Master, then Diversify.  Simple message, hard execution!  But there are a lot of tips on how to embrace this message and make it your own.  Focus has always been my toughest challenge; I am a great example of someone distracted by bright, shiny objects (as my recent purchase of polymer clay will attest!).  So, I am going to be focusing on focusing...

With that in mind, if you are one of my Ravelry pattern purchasers, thank you so much, and you'll be getting a very short (just 3 questions) survey soon asking for feedback.  I hope you'll take a few moments to respond.  If you're not a pattern purchaser, then I'd love to hear from you as well:  please let me know why -- contact at manycreativegifts dot com.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Featured Fruit of the Week -- Cherries (Red)

We are entering cherry season.  They are not only one of the sweetest and tastiest of the red fruits, but they are also packed with health benefits. Cherries are a great source of fiber, vitamins A, C, and B-complex, phytochemicals, anthocyanins, and melatonin, all of which make cherries helpful in lowering bad cholesterol, maintaining healthy skin, protecting DNA from free radicals, fighting the risks of heart disease and colon cancer, and helping to fight insomnia. They also help reduce inflammation and arthritis pain.

At market, cherries usually can be found starting in June and lasting throughout the summer. Look for cherries that are shiny and plump with no blemishes, cuts, bruises, or stale and dry stems. Sweet cherries should be firm but not hard, while sour cherries should be medium-firm. Look for cherries with the stems still intact, they will have a longer shelf life. Also, try to buy organic cherries to avoid pesticide contamination.

You should store cherries unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and wash just before eating. Let them come to room temperature; the flavor will be much better. Use your fresh cherries within 2 to 4 days. Cherries can be frozen, but you should remove the pits first (otherwise, they will take on an almond flavor from the pit). Place pitted and washed cherries in a plastic bag with all the air removed and freeze, or place cherries on a baking sheet, freeze, and then store in a plastic bag. Frozen cherries can last in the freezer up to 10 to 12 months.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

5 Reasons Why Crochet is Better than Weed

Well, to be clear, I myself have not tried marijuana -- really, never have.  I've smelled others using it, but I've never had a desire to try it myself; hey, a beer or two does me in, so I've always been nervous about trying anything stronger.  But I do have friends who extol its virtues: it eases stress and relaxes you; it has health properties, etc., etc.

This morning, I really needed a stress-easer!  I thought my head was going to explode with that rush of panic that hits when you realize you didn't do something you were supposed to do.  Thankfully, I quickly discovered that I had more time than I realized, but my head was still feeling the effects of the panic, on top of having had a half cup of coffee on an empty stomach!  So, I sat down, took a deep breath, and started to knit a row on the sweater I'm making (more on that later...).  By the end of the row, I felt soooo much better.

That's what got me thinking about why knitting and crocheting really are superior forms of relaxation than the usual chemical ways people seek to ease their stress.  Specifically,

1)  It's Cheaper.

I'm told that 1 gram of the good stuff costs about $20.  Hey, for that price, you can buy 100 grams (which is about 350-400 yards, depending on the thickness of the yarn) of hand-dyed wool yarn or 300-400 grams of a fine quality manufactured yarn.  And it'll take a lot longer to use up the yarn than smoke one joint!

2)  You Know What You're Getting

One of my big fears about trying marijuana is a lack of knowledge about exactly what's in it or if it's been "laced" with anything (maybe now with legalization and regulation that's less of a concern), but have you ever heard of a yarn ingredient scandal??

3)  And, If You Don't Like It, You Can Return It

I doubt your pot source is going to be willing to take back any unused portion of your purchase, but local yarn shops usually have reasonable return policies.

4)  You Can Do It Legally in Public

In fact, Worldwide Knit In Public Day is coming up on June 18, 2016, and the Upper Northwest Knitters of DC are celebrating at Laliguras Restaurant on Connecticut Avenue, details here!  Though I guess you could say that both activities seem to still have some stigma attached to them :-).

5)  No Munchies

It's hard to eat and stitch (messy in the least), so it's actually a great way to inhibit mindless munching, which actually further reduces your costs and is better for your health ;-)

Now, arguably, the creative aspects of both could make the two activities compatible; it would be interesting to hear about experiences in which people have tried to crochet while smoking pot!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

3 Critical Steps to Enjoying Fruits and Vegetables

Now, I know you're wondering what in the world this has to do with crochet, but stay with me, it's all about the crochet lifestyle and getting back to a more natural and healthy way of life.  A really important aspect of achieving the crochet lifestyle IMHO is enjoying healthy and natural foods.

My friend Helen and I started a project a few years ago about choosing and preparing fruits and vegetables in all the different colors for optimal health and nutrition.  She's the author of a fantastic children's book Eat Lots of Colors: A Colorful Look at Healthy Nutrition for Children that really gets kids off on the right foot in learning about fruits and vegetables. Well, our follow-up project has been dormant for a little while, but with summer fast approaching, it seems like a good time to revive our tips for healthy eating.

Which brings me to the 3 critical steps:

1)  Choosing Fruits and Vegetables in an Optimal Way

I know, we're all in a hurry when we go to the grocery store (or better yet the farmers' market).  So, we start grabbing whatever looks good and hope when we get home that it actually is good and that we know what to do with it!  But there is a better way, and, if we consciously slow down a bit, it'll pay off in the end.  It's important to pay attention to what's in season and to utilize all of our senses in choosing the best fruits and vegetables.  Helen and I have some great tips on how to do this with ease.

2)  Storing those Fruits and Vegetables Properly

Once you've spent the time and money to choose the best fruits and vegetables, it's a real shame when they go bad because they weren't stored properly.  We'll break it down for you to make this aspect of healthy eating a cinch!

3)  Preparing Fruits and Vegetables to Really Bring Out Their Charms

Ok, you've bought the best of the best and lovingly stored everything to keep it fresh, but now it's time to actually prepare your bounty.  Helen and I have got some tried and true recipes that will help unlock the amazing tastes and nutrients of your fruits and vegetables without a lot of time, unnecessary ingredients, or preparation.

Sounds good Phyllis, but we want some details!  Ok, then come back each Thursday for our Featured Fruit or Vegetable of the Week!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Metro Yarn Crawl 2016

I can't believe the annual DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) Metro Yarn Crawl has come and is almost gone.  Last year (here's the post), my friends Nina, Mary, and I visited some of the Virginia stores, so, this year, we figured we'd check out some of the Maryland stores.  Unfortunately, a favorite store the Yarn Spot closed not too long ago, so we started our adventure by heading up to Boyds, Maryland to visit Knit Locally.  For a city girl like me, I really felt like I was going on a trip to the countryside, though there seems to be a lot of development going on up there (the whole I-270 corridor keeps growing and growing).

We got there just as the store was opening (took about an hour's drive from NW DC).  What a fabulous and magical place!!  It was just amazing, the selection of yarns, books, and jewelry all fit together so beautifully.  But best of all was the fact that Dana was there that day (she's also known as StitchenWitch on Ravelry and has an amazing blog that I had actually come across a few weeks ago:  She made some great recommendations to us, both yarn-wise and pattern-wise, and I got some great stuff.  Oh, and be sure to visit the rest room while you're there, trust me!

Then off to Woolwinders in Rockville.  It's a smaller, more modern shop, but they've done some fun redecorating since the last time I was there.  The clock in the picture is crocheted, and I hope you can see the yarn ball and needles stenciling on the wall behind us.

Our third stop was Second Story Knits in Bethesda.  This was a really fun stop as well.  It's under new ownership and is just a more friendly and comfortable place to be now.  The yarn selections are top notch, and it is in the heart of the redevelopment of Bethesda that's going on right now.

Oh, and I forgot to confess to the yummy lunch that we had at IHOP; the chicken florentine crepe was quite tasty ;-).  Ah, another perfect yarn crawling experience with two besties, what more could a girl want on a chilly spring day!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

What is the Crochet Lifestyle?

As National Crochet Month draws to a close, I've mentioned before my plan to explore all aspects of living the "crochet lifestyle," but, in a way, it's kind of important to first start defining what that means.  The other day, this saying popped up on Facebook:

Crochet is not just a hobby...  It's an obsession, an occupation, an addiction, a fascination, self-expression and a way of life
I don't know to whom to attribute it, but I thought it summed things up quite nicely!  And, in all fairness, I'm sure these feelings apply to knitting, painting, cooking, working with clay, writing a poem or book, and any other type of artistic endeavor -- because each is its own beautiful way to express yourself.

The two best examples I can point to as living the crochet lifestyle are Kristin Omdahl and Drew Emborsky.  Both started out as talented crochet designers and instructors but each is branching out in his and her own ways; KKO is now offering wonderful yarns, project bags, but also branching out into tips about cooking, skin care and even furniture making; the Crochet Dude is putting his artistic expressions into beautiful zentangle notecards.  He claims to have retired from crochet, but somehow I have to believe he'll be inspired again in that medium.  I'd love to explore with both of them about their definitions of the crochet lifestyle and where they see it taking them, so I'll be reaching out to them for interviews and let's see what happens.

Which just goes to show that living the crochet lifestyle is more than just about crocheting; it seems to be about adding style to your life through artistic expression.  It's about going through each day in a carefree yet efficient way so that you'll have more time to crochet!  It's certainly what I had in mind while I was creating the Sunset Planner Portfolio -- getting organized and crocheting at the same time!  I know I promised some more organizing tips and planning pages before the end of the month, but the time just flew...  I'll be posting them soon and lots more in the days and weeks to come.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The No-Pay MBA

You know, there are times in life when you have an idea, you set it aside, and then you come back across it, executed by someone else, probably (if you're honest with yourself) better than you could have done it!  Well, that happened to me the other day.

I've always wanted to get an MBA.  I even got into NYU Business School my senior year of college but took another path (a good one, so no real regrets).  And, these days, graduate schools are prohibitively expensive, and giving up a full time job (and MCG on the side) is not an option.  So, I got to thinking about how, with the internet, there are so many other options to learn (for me, it's really not about the degree itself, but the curriculum that business schools advocate in order to develop the knowledge and skills for running a business).  I started to research the different courses that business schools require, but of course got distracted by other bright shiny objects...

And the other day, while going through emails and scanning the headlines of some old SmartBrief for Your Career newsletters, what pops up but an article "6 Free Online Courses That'll Teach You the Same Skills You'd Learn in Business School" by Laurie Pickard.  She has such an interesting personal story and does a great job of outlining the core business courses that I clicked on her bio and went to her website The No-Pay MBA and bought the book!  No affiliation here, just a recommendation if you too have been exploring ways to gain some additional business knowledge and skills in a legitimate way (don't get me wrong, I think some of the "online Facebook motivational speakers" and their offerings have merit, but nothing substitutes for the in-depth, rigorous courses that real educational institutions offer).

Now, to go find the time, energy, and discipline it takes to actually implement this!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beginnings of the Paper System and the Sunset Planner Portfolio

Organization of my "work/crafting station" has been going pretty well, but it's not quite ready for its reveal.  But #NatCroMo2016 has me thinking about so many aspects of creativity, it's been so great.  Sometimes I can be effective in the midst of chaos, but I find that I work better when my environment is clean, organized and comfortable.  So, rather than fight my natural inclinations, I'm learning to go with them!  Of course that means more work for me and a delay in getting to projects that I should be working on.  But, I really think that some front-loaded work on my space can free up the creativity and really get me going.

As I've written about in this post, my first goal has been to wrangle in the paper.  I found the Organized Creatives, who have a folder system that really spoke to me and so far has been working.  Basically, you need to have just three folders:  Hot (that should be checked daily for things that need immediate attention; mine is red), Bills (that's pretty self-explanatory, and I chose green for $$ :-), and For Review (things you want to go back to when you have more time to read, etc., and that folder is purple).  I decided to add a fourth folder called Monitoring, for those matters that need follow-up after I've done my part and am waiting for a response, and it's this beautiful black and white swirl folder.

So far so good, but I noticed that the folders were moving around the house as I picked them up and put them down.  I really needed something to corral them, something that would stand out and would be portable when needed.  That's how the Sunset Planner Portfolio came to be!  It's large enough to hold the folders plus other papers as needed.  I created a hard bottom for it so that it would have a little more structure and prop up nicely on the desk.  I didn't want it to have a traditional shoulder strap but wanted to keep my handle options open, so I put in a loop at each end to maintain flexibility and came up with this little lobster claw strap so that I can hook the portfolio to my messenger bag (still need to make another one for the other side!).

It was a fun project to make and used up a lot of my leftover Lily's Sugar 'n Cream yarn.  My friend Charlene thought the finished color combination looked like a sunset, hence the name (but more on what that sparked later!).  The buttons came from AC Moore and were $4.50 each!!  But I just loved them, so the splurge :-)

I'll be offering a kit soon with all the needed parts in it (and hopefully less expensive but just as cute buttons), but the crochet pattern with complete instructions is posted on Ravelry, and, during the month of March, it's half off with coupon code NATCROMO2016!

Coming up soon:  What about a Sunrise Portfolio and what about all the other paper?!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

NatCroMo 2016

Hi Crocheters, Happy National Crochet Month!!

Welcome everyone, thank you so much for joining me on my blog post day for Crochetville's celebration of all things crochet.  There are so many wonderful crochet designers and local yarn shops involved this year, and the best way to keep up with all of the goings-on is through Crochetville's Facebook Page for NatCroMo.

I've been working on all sorts of projects lately, and those of you who know me know that I'm easily distracted by bright shiny objects.  But, I have focused long enough to bring you some fun things for the month of March:

1)  The Sunset Planner Portfolio

One really important project I've been working on for myself but that hopefully you will find helpful as well is a crochet bag in which to keep my daily paperwork organized.  The Sunset Planner Portfolio pattern is now available on Ravelry, and a kit with all of the needed ingredients will be available in my Etsy shop soon.  In celebration of NatCroMo 2016, the crochet pattern on Ravelry is 50% off and our kit on Etsy will be 20% off for the whole month of March with code NATCROMO2016.

At the beginning of every year, I struggle with finding, and utilizing, the "perfect" planner to keep track of all of my personal and business tasks, appointments, bills, ... everything!  This year, I think I'm a step closer to really having the tools and system I need to keep on top of everything, and I'm hoping my research into different methods of keeping track of items will be helpful to you too.

First, you might want to check out my previous post on being both organized AND creative and some steps to take in that direction.  Also, I've got another follow-up post coming up later this month with some great resources I've come across AND FREE PRINTABLES that I've been using in building my own paper organization system and crochet projects system.

2)  The Imminent Launch of "Global Crochet"

Like it's not hard enough to get organized and keep up with Many Creative Gifts, I've decided to launch a companion site, Global Crochet, that explores crochet styles and techniques from around the world!  We're going to be partnering with some amazing and creative people to offer some unique crochet projects and accessories and exploring exactly what the "crochet lifestyle" is all about.  For now, please visit us on Facebook, like our page, and get up-to-date information about the launch!  

And the best place to start is home -- the District of Columbia!  There's more than just politics going on in this town; we've got a very vibrant fiber arts and handmade movement here. Our new project bag celebrates DC and will be available for pre-order in our Etsy shop by March 14th, with delivery in about 3-4 weeks.

3)  Meet Clownie's Friends!

Here's my Clownie from last year's DCWBC Holiday Bazaar!  For those of you who already have made Clownie the Crochet Clown Doll come alive, many thanks from the bottom of my heart.  I know how special Clownie has become in a lot of families (he's the least scary clown you can imagine :-), but I've been worried about Clownie being a bit lonely ...  So, stay tuned to meet some new companions for Clownie and hear more about their adventures together!

Again, thank you so much for spending part of your NatCroMo celebration with me, and I hope to see you back here again and on Facebook later in the month for some updates, freebies, and surprises -- to get the latest, please sign up for blog post emails in the left column of this page, only one or two a week I promise, and connect with me through my Facebook page anytime :-).

Friday, February 26, 2016

3 Action Steps to Take Today on the Road to Being Organized AND Creative

Sometimes it just feels like these two concepts can't possibly coexist!  I mean, to be organized means to be rigid, habitual, set in one's ways; whereas, to be creative means to be spontaneous, carefree, not tied down to a system.  Right?!

Well, I refuse to believe that!  I have to believe that the two can be compatible. And I don't think I'm the only one.  But, as I struggle to do well at my "real" job, take care of my mom and husband (and don't think I'm being a 50s wife here, he does a lot for me too, just not in the cleaning, organizing department ;-), and be creative, I don't have a lot of time to really do things the way I would like to do them.

And, of course, it's almost March, and I still haven't fulfilled my New Year's resolution of getting my planner set up and my workspace/creative space organized!  So, in the spirit of holding myself accountable and taking action, I'm writing about it here hopefully to help all of us who are similarly struggling.

I just came across some wonderful inspiration also.  Just take a look at Andrea's Notebook and her creative home office reveal!  I'm seriously thinking about setting up a pegboard because going vertical is a better option than going horizontal -- I really need the desk space to have room to create and not feel cluttered (by the way, like Andrea, I am NOT posting any "before" photos because it's just too embarrassing, no one needs to see this!)

So, since I'm blogging and taking action in real time on this project (and am encouraging you to do the same as well), let's start with STEP 1 -- figuring out exactly what needs to be organized.  Think about what YOU need and want, not what the organizing gurus tell you you should need and want.  For example, even though it would be great to have all of my craft stuff all in one place, I don't think it's feasible and necessarily desirable for me.  I like to crochet in the living room, so having my yarns and tools in cabinets in the hallway and dining room (yes, you read that right!) works for me.  The bedroom, where my first organization project is taking place, is where I like to do my computer work, for both personal and business purposes.  Having said that, I can see how the pegboard system on the wall above my desk would help in having some of my crochet yarns and tools right on hand that I need when doing some computer work in writing up the patterns, etc.

My biggest challenge in this space is managing paper.  Although I've been trying hard to go electronic (and organizing electronic files is a topic all on its own!), there are some things that I just feel the need to have on paper.  But managing all the junk mail and "stuff" is challenging for me; I'm getting better about sorting (and throwing away) mail and papers in the hallway or living room when it first comes in the apartment so that what gets carried into the bedroom office area is just the important paper.  But, what then?!

Ok, so here is our assignment for today:

1) Make a list of the items that give you the hardest time with organization.  For me, it's bills and other important paperwork that needs to get done by a certain date, articles and stuff that I want to read later, business cards that I pick up along the way, coupons I know I should be using, crochet magazines that I can't bring myself to throw out, and half-written crochet patterns and notes that I take about projects I've started or plan on undertaking someday.

2) Think about what helps you stay organized.  Do you like using folders?  Maybe binders.  How about boxes and/or shelving?   Your iPhone?  I really like all of it but for different things -- folders for particular topics, but I'm thinking about using a binder for my planner this year.  I'm such a creature of habit, so I need to incorporate the spiral notebooks and other things that I've already created into my new system.

3) Start gathering what you already own and figuring out what you need to buy.  I've already got a ton of file boxes and folders, but I really need to get that pegboard for the wall.  Thankfully, I've got a Staples coupon, so I'm going to start there first (I've been looking online as well and have an idea of what I want and how much it's going to cost).  And, as I look around in this space, just like Andrea said, it might be worth the investment to buy some coordinating furniture rather than cobbling things together.

Come on, not such a hard assignment to get started!  My next installment will be about getting into the nitty-gritty details.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Kristin Omdahl Bamboo Yarns

Kristin Omdahl has created her own line of yarns!  As you crocheters know, Kristin is a talented designer of both crochet and knitwear, and now she's taking it to the next level by offering brilliant hand dyed bamboo yarns (disclosure:  Kristin is offering her yarns at a discount to pattern designers to give them the opportunity to experience and utilize this beautiful yarn in our own designs).

So, I had the hardest time deciding which yarns to order!  I went with Be So Bold and Be So Sporty.
It came in a flash, and how wonderfully packaged.  Kristin really pays attention to detail but still manages to give that personal touch.
Here is the Be So Bold (100% bamboo, 165 yds/594m per 4 oz/113g for $30) in Sophia's Serengeti Sunset.  It's a worsted weight yarn, and I'm using my G hook for the swatch (see below).  I think it's a single ply and looks almost weaved.  It's soooo easy to crochet with, no splits!

My swatch has 2 rows of single crochet, followed by 2 rows of double crochet.  I'm getting 8 stitches per inch, and 2 rows of single is about a half inch and 2 rows of double is a little more than an inch.

Ok, so now that my swatch is made, let's go wash it! I was a little worried at first because, even though bamboo has some amazing properties (it’s naturally antibacterial and gives ultraviolet protection, with good drape and breath-ability), it can be a bit challenging to maintain (it needs to be hand washed and loses strength and swells in water).  But, I have to say, the swatch isn't shrinking or growing in size (hey, I'm doing this in real time!).  Whew, well, I'll post after drying pix, but so far, so good.  So, now on to the designing!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Seamed Socks, Part 2

Well, they are done!!  The first post about these seamed socks is here.

I love them, and they were quite easy to make, but a few things I learned in the process:

1)  I should have done the ribbing for the ankle part with a smaller needle so that it would have been a little tighter and more rib-y looking.

2)  I did "two at a time" by using 2 of the 4 needles that came in the set for each sock.  I would follow an instruction for one sock, then go and follow the same instruction for the other sock, before moving on to another instruction.  There was a time when I needed 3 needles for one sock, so I finished up that part for one sock using the spare needle from the other sock, then went to the other sock and did that part with the third needle.  I'm so glad I alternated between making both socks at the same time because I was able to have the pair finished together, and I think it helped me ensure that both socks were getting made in the same way.

3)  The mattress stitch is challenging!  Thankfully, Purl Soho has a link to instructions built in to the pattern.  I had to fuss with lining up the two pieces to seam a few times, but it did actually work!  Oh, and thanks to YouTube and Purl Soho, everything I needed to learn to make the socks was pretty easy to find and follow.

4)  I want to learn how to do a short-row heel.  The heel for these socks wasn't that hard, but I don't think I like the look as much as a short-row heel.  I think I got a preview of what short rows will be like as part of decreasing the heel on this project, so I'm looking forward to giving it a try.  One thing I've heard many knitters say about short rows is "just follow the instructions, don't think, don't question, just follow the instructions, and you'll get it done."  Sounds interesting...

5)  There are more socks in my future, and I think I'm going to try from the toe up in a tube.  Let the adventure continue!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Seamed Socks, Part 1

Well, look what turned up in my inbox from Purl Soho -- a free pattern for seamed socks.

As you will recall, socks are definitely on my knitting bucket list, and this pattern could be a great way to learn about sock construction and sock making techniques and check it off my list, though I bet I will still want to make a proper pair nevertheless. 

I bought this beautiful sock yarn a few Metro Yarn Crawls ago, so I'm pulling it out for this project. It's a hand-painted fingering weight, 100% merino wool from Claudia and Co. in Strawberry Latte.  

I also got this inexpensive set of long double pointed needles (note:  we are an Amazon affiliate, so we'd appreciate your using our link if you decide to purchase :-) for the so far disastrous brioche learning. I made a swatch and ended up using 2.25 mm needles.  So I think I'm ready to go!

Now, what size should I make?  Mm, maybe some foot measuring is in order. Plus, you know I'm not going to make it exactly as instructed ;-).  I want little ankle-length footies because I know that's what I tend to wear around the house.

First order of business, what's m1r?  "Make 1 right", ok.  This video makes it so clear!

Ok, so come back on Tuesday to see how this little project is going...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Corner-to-Corner Baby Blanket

I do love the crochet and knit demonstrations on Facebook!  A few weeks ago, I came across a wonderful technique demonstrated by the Crochet Crowd called the Corner-to-Corner Afghan Project. 

It showed up right in time because I recently found out that a friend of mine is expecting baby number 2!  This one's going to be a boy (the first baby is a girl, and she got this baby blanket and still carries it around :-), and the nursery theme is safari.  So, off to A.C. Moore I went before Blizzard 2016 (now, yarnies, don't judge!  Acrylic yarns these days are pretty decent, and, for a baby, the wash-ability and allergy-free nature of the yarn is key) and found "Camouflage" by Red Heart (that's another thing, there were no safari-like or camouflage yarns at fibre space or Looped).

It did not take long to get to this point with this worsted weight yarn and an H hook:

I ended up having 18 "boxes" across and 22 for the length.  I probably should have tried to have 24, but I was running out of yarn (the main body took just one skein) and didn't want to chance it.

Now, I'm putting on a double crochet black border and am thinking about experimenting with adding a row of beige/camel in there too.  I'll be posting a better photo of the final project soon (she's coming to visit at the beginning of February!) with more details if you want to give it a try as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Blogging Schedule?

Ah, yes, the blogging "schedule".  I felt the need to use quotes since there is NO schedule right now!  But, that's just got to change.  As I said in my first post of the year, I don't want to post just for the heck of it; I want to create blog posts that are worthwhile and meaningful.  That needs to be done, however, on a reasonable timetable; if you're like me, you take comfort in certain things popping up in your email at certain times :-).  Too much, though, and it's overwhelming; too little, and you wonder what's going on...

I'm going to try to be better at linking and coordinating posts with other social media outlets also because I know everyone's got different favorite sources for information, and each platform has its own benefits and burdens too. 

But now, dear reader, I need YOUR help!!  Sometimes it feels like I'm blogging and posting into a black hole.  I hope I'm writing about matters of interest to you, and I respect those of you who just want the information and no interaction -- I do it myself all the time too.  But, I've recently gotten more interactive on Facebook with others' posts, and I'm finding more enjoyment and community as a result.  I'd love to have and need your feedback because I'd like to create that feeling here (and on my Facebook page) too.  So please leave a message with your thoughts and ideas...

My aim had been to have a techniques post on Tuesdays and a random topic discussion (fiber and/or small business related) on Fridays.  Should I try to go back to that or try something different??  One thing I do want to weave in is my progress on the Crochet/Knit Bucket List -- I'm hoping my experiences and musings on the process will be interesting and relate-able :-).

Well, I hope others are getting to enjoy a 3-day weekend in honor of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. 

Happy crocheting and knitting!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Hello 2016!

Well, here we are again, at the beginning of a new year!  I try to look at the upcoming 12 months optimistically, a whole new clean slate on which to do whatever it is you want to do.  Of course, it's bittersweet because I always go back to the first post of the previous year to see what I did, and did not, accomplish.  The two blog posts a week plan sure didn't get done; I did participate more on Facebook, and I've discovered I really enjoy the interaction and some of the new tools that have been added; and I have been much better about actually starting and finishing projects -- you all just haven't heard about them... yet!

So, for 2016, here are my three goals:

1)  a realistic and meaningful blog post schedule

As much as I read about the importance of consistency in posting, I think, or at least am hoping, that you all will appreciate fewer but more meaningful posts.  I really don't want to slap something up here for the sake of posting and not have it be worthwhile for the reader.  Now, I know, don't let perfection get in the way of progress, and I won't/can't, but this year is really going to be about meaningfulness.  Quality above quantity and meeting crocheters' needs.

2)  a focus on techniques and projects

"Give a pattern to a crocheter, and she's (or he) got one project; teach a new technique to a crocheter, and she's got a lifetime of possibilities."  Or something like that ;-).  I really want to approach this new year in learning and teaching mode.  Don't get me wrong, I too love just picking up a pattern and knowing/hoping that I can follow it and end up with a wonderful finished item.  I've actually been doing that a lot this past year, and I think it's going to make me an even better pattern writer.  But, there are times when the pattern isn't just the way I want it, and I think it's important to stray from the directions and add my own touches.  I really want to empower other crocheters to feel comfortable doing the same.  Not everyone's got a local yarn store where they can get assistance and build community.  That's the beauty of the Internet, we can do it right here!

3)  explore the "crochet/knit lifestyle"

I hinted last year at my observation that crocheting (and knitting) are more than just hobbies; they really are important aspects of life itself.  You know what I mean -- you start crocheting or knitting, and you just get this feeling.  Not just about the particular project you are making but about the process you're engaging in as well as about your surroundings.  I really want to spend this year exploring and conveying specifically what this means.  Again, due to modern life, we don't have the communities and kinships that we used to, but I have noticed on Facebook in particular and the Internet in general, that like-minded souls do seem to find each other :-).  And, I'm sure you've noticed my references to knitting as well.  I really want to incorporate more knitting into my projects because, let's face it, there are certain knitting techniques that work better than crochet for certain aspects of a project (think ribbing!).  I also get a different feeling when I knit than when I crochet (maybe because I haven't been knitting for as long), and I think that phenomenon will be worth exploring as well.

So, perhaps loftier goals for 2016, but hopefully ones you will want to explore with me!  Happy New Year everyone, here's to making it a great one!!